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Full text of "Upton Sinclair on the Soviet Union"

This pamphlet is reprinted from the New Masses 
of March 8, 1938 



Published by 

WEEKLY MASSES CO., INC. 

31 East 27th Street 

New York City 



209 

Published, April, 1938 



I'RINIED IN THE U.S.A. 



A Note by the Editors 



The following letter by Upton Sinclair was 
written in reply to an open letter addressed to him 
by Eugene Lyons. 

We are glad to present to our readers Mr. Sinclair's 
eloquent answer to Lyons— that highly moral "Social- 
ist" who is devoting all his time to slandering the 
Soviet Union and who, white a correspondent there, 
did not disdain to speculate on the "black bourse" and 
to smuggle valuable art objects out of the country, 
thus robbing the Soviet workers and peasants of the 
very gold which might have been used for improving 
their "terrible" conditions. 

We could demur with regard to a number of points 
made by Mr. Sinclair. But the general spirit of his 
letter is so essentially human and sound that we prefer 
not to dwell on those statements— of minor importance 
—to which we take exception. We must, however, draw 
attention to two major historical errors into which 
Mr. Sinclair falU. 

One is his erroneous description of the Bolshevik 
revolution as having been made by "a little group of 
revolutionists who managed to seize power." The 
October Revolution was a mass, revolution of workers, 



peasants and soldiers; the Bolshevik Party at that 
time numbered several hundred thousand members, 
who were the vanguard of the broad masses in their 
democratic struggle for peace, land and freedom. 

Second, Sinclair erroneously places the "birth of 
Trotskyism" as an event subsequent to the adoption of 
the People's Front policy by the Seventh Co?igress of 
the Communist International in 1935. Trotskyism is 
an old disease. Its recrudescence in its most virulent 
form of sabotage, treason and terror as traced in the 
Soviet Union, according to the confessions of the 
Trotskyites themselves at the Moscow trials, goes back 
to the beginning of this decade, i.e., the difficult years 
when the Soviet Union was engaged in the first major 
advance toward socialism in city and country. Kirov 
was assassinated in December, 1934. 

The Editor. 



Upton Sinclair's Letter 



My dear Eugene Lyons: 
I have your open letter on the subject of niv 
views on Russia. Of course I shall not "misunderstand 
the spirit of it." You have a perfect right to critici/e 
my published ideas, and I am interested in your reac- 
tions. But I am not convinced, and will tell you why. 

The Russian people suffered many centuries of op- 
pression, they had no democratic institutions, and 
they did not know what we call "liberty." Modern 
ideas were kept from them, and the great bulk of the 
people were degraded peasants only recently out of 
serfdom, besotted with drink and sunk in superstition. 
After three years of dreadful suffering and defeat in 
war, a little group of revolutionists who believed in 
collectivism managed to seize power. I did not believe 
they could hold it for six months, but they have man- 
aged to hold it for twenty years. My error in judgment 
makes me humble about giving them advice now. 

The little group of revolutionists have been enforc- 
ing their collectivist ideas upon a hundred and seventy 
million people. At the same time they have been giv- 
ing these people education of a sort. You doubt the 

5 



benefits of this education, saying that "only words 
written by the ruling clique may be read." Will you 
really defend such a statement, or is it merely a bit 
of rhetoric? More than three million copies of my 
books have been translated and published in Russia. 
They have recently circulated something like half a 
million copies of No Pasaran, and are now proceeding 
to do the same with The Flivver King. Naturally, 
this inclines me somewhat in their favor; but I hasten 
to add that they have also circulated many more mil- 
lion copies of the works of Tolstoi and of Pushkin, to 
say nothing of Marx and Engels. How many students 
have come out of their high schools and colleges I do 
not happen to know, but it must be many millions in 
the course of twenty years. You appear to believe that 
all the minds of all these persons are entirely enslaved; 
but I am unable to believe this, and I think that if 
the ruling group in Russia has committed a "betrayal 
of the basic principles of socialism, workers' democ- 
racy," the educated workers will find it out in the 
course of time and will find a way to get that which 
has so elaborately been promised to them for the past 
twenty years. 

Let us return to our Russian history. The three 
years of foreign war were followed by a year of revo- 
lution and several years of civil war, during which 
most of the resources of Russia were destroyed and an 
extreme fanaticism was begotten. Personally, I never 
permit myself to think about Russian affairs without 
remembering those years of anguish and the fury of 

6 



passion which they awakened in the hearts of the 
struggling workers. Defending themselves against 
world capitalism represented by a score of nations, 
including the United States of America, the Russian 
workers learned to hate counter-revolutionary con- 
spiracies and to put them down. Even in our com- 
paratively peaceful America I also learned something 
about capitalist counter-revolution and the infamies 
to which it will resort to defend itself and its privi- 
leges. I am never going to forget what I learned, and 
it enabled me to understand the determination of the 
Russian people to defend their regime. 

From my point of view, the Russians have been at 
war during the past twenty years. It has been not 
merely a war of blockade, of intrigue and sabotage 
and spying and wholesale lying, it has also been a 
preparation against military attack, a mere lull be- 
tween battles. I have known for twenty years that the 
Russians were going to be attacked again whenever 
reaction felt that it had the power. I have told them 
that on every occasion and have never blamed them 
for defending themselves and preparing for further 
defense. I understand that their political liberties in 
the meantime have been and could be only such as are 
possible for a people at war; and if you remember 
the years 1917-1920 in our own country, you know 
that they are not the ideal civil liberties such as we 
all hope to enjoy in the cooperative commonwealth 
of the future. 

And now have come Mussolini, and then Hitler, 

7 



and then the Mikado. I used to be asked, during 
our EPIC campaign, to define fascism, and my answer 
was "Fascism is capitalism plus murder." A year or 
more ago, addressing the Western Writers' Congress, 
I made the statement that "Al Capone is a scholar, a 
stateman and a gentleman compared with the men 
who are running Italy and Germany today." The 
events which have come to our unhappy world since 
that time caused me to add Franco and the Japanese 
gangsters to that list. Whatever you may think about 
them, you can hardly dispute the fact that Russia is 
for all practical purposes at war today. Russian 
technicians are helping the democratic people of 
Spain to defend their existence. Russian technicians i 
are helping the people of China to the same end. 
Russia is fighting not merely Franco, but Hitler and 
Mussolini in Spain. And I take it you will agree with 
me that if the reactionaries can have their way in 
Spain and in China, they will be that much nearer 
to their final goal, the destruction of collectivist insti- 
tutions in the Soviet Union. Hitler has told us quite 
frankly that he intends to have the Ukraine, and the 
young Japanese militarists have been no less frank 
on the subject of the eastern half of Siberia. 

Again and again Russia came into the conference 
of Europe and proposed complete disarmament. Our 
reactionary newspaper columnists are quite sure that 
this was a bluff; but what a simple matter it is to call 
a bluff if you have the cards! Why didn't the war 
lords of the militarist nations accept Litvinov's propo- 

8 



sitions? Why didn't they pretend to accept them? 
The answer is because every one of them understood 
clearly that a collectivist economy can get along with- 
out colonies and foreign trade, whereas a profit econ- 
omy must have these things and must increase them, 
and therefore is driven continually to fresh aggressions 
under penalty of revolution at home. 

It is my belief that the disarmament proposals 
repeatedly made by the Soviet Union enable that 
country to stand before the world with clean hands, 
and place the blame for the wars which are coming 
upon the nations which refused the proposals and 
have gone on ever since to prepare for worse aggres- 
sions against the Soviet Union. Seeing this war clearly 
before us, I say that friends of progress have no 
choice whatever except this choice: do you want to 
see the Soviet Union overthrown, or do you want 
to see Hitler, Mussolini, Franco and Araki over- 
thrown? That is the question of our time for every 
Socialist, every progressive, and every friend of man- 
kind. That does not mean, as you suggest in your 
letter, that I "seriously propose concealment of the 
truth as the solution of the problem of Russia." It 
does mean that when I criticize what Russia is doing, 
I criticize it as a friend who understands. 

Long ago I learned the bitter lesson that I cannot 
make this world what I think it should be— at least 
not in this lifetime. If I could wipe terror and cruelty 
from the world by a stroke of the pen, assuredly I 
would be making such a stroke at this moment, instead 

9 



of explaining to you and a few of ray fellow Socialists 
that I am forced to choose between two regimes of 
force which are in a death-struggle with each other. 
It so happens that I believe one of these regimes is 
capable of progress and improvement, while I believe 
that the other means death to all hope of progress 
to mankind for all future time. 

This you describe as "apologetics for mass brutality, 
official sadism and totalitarian suppression of elemen- 
tary human rights." These are powerful and all- 
inclusive words, and I think they fail to allow for 
the opening of hundreds of thousands of schools and 
the education of a hundred million illiterate people. 
I could give a long list of improvements in Russia 
which I think you fail to allow for in your letter to 
me. You point out the fact that I have not visited 
Russia, and suggest that this indicates my "panicky 
fear of facing the facts." As it happens, this sugges- 
tion would apply to all the other countries of the 
world, because I have not been outside the United 
States since the World War. The "panicky fear" 
which I have felt has been caused by the riveting of 
capitalist shackles upon the people of my own coun- 
try, and I have judged that the best thing I could do 
was to stay at home where I really understand the 
institutions and conditions and can really give advice. 

At the same time I have had many friends, some 
of whom have traveled to Russia every year and 
brought me back first-hand accounts. Also many 
Russians have come over here and have given me an 

10 



opportunity to know them and judge them. I could 
not withhold a smile when you cited to me the case of 
Eisenstein as an example of "outlawry of progressive 
and modernistic and experimental urges in cultural 
life [in the Soviet Union]." Well, my dear Eugene 
Lyons, you probably know many times as much about 
the Soviet Union as I know, but one Russian phe- 
nomenon I can claim to know thoroughly, and that 
is Eisenstein. I once . tried to help him make a pic- 
ture. I won't go into details of the sad story, but 
will just say that through two years of experience 
which came near to ending my life I learned a great 
deal about the difficulties which the administrators 
of the Soviet Union have encountered in endeavoring 
to build order out of the chaos placed at their disposal. 
Also, I have known a great many American Com- 
munists, and I have learned from them. I have known 
some good ones and some exceedingly bad ones— I 
doubt if you could have known any worse inside the 
Soviet Union. As you know, up to three years ago 
it was the dogma of the Communists that we Socialists 
were all social fascists, and during our EPIC campaign 
in California I had many trying times with Commu- 
nists at the mass meetings at which I spoke through- 
out the state. They used to bring armsful of leaflets 
into the galleries and at the height of my most elo- 
quent climaxes they would shower down arguments 
upon the audience below. I used to make it a point 
to ask for one of the leaflets and read it to the audi- 
ence and answer it there and then, explaining why I 

U 



did .not think that we could have a Russian revolu- 
tion in America right away, and why I thought it was 
a mistake to call for it at any time. 

Now, as you know, the Communist Parties all over 
the world have changed their "line." I do not mean 
to be egotistical and imply that they have taken my 
advice, but it is a fact that what they are now saying 
and doing is what I urged them for many years to 
say and do: to support and co-operate with the demo- 
cratic peoples. As soon as I read of the adoption of 
this new "line," I knew that it would not please some 
of the bitter fanatics who preached the dogma of the 
permanent revolution for so many years that they 
could not open their eyes to the meaning of Musso- 
lini, Hitler, Franco and Araki. I remember saying 
to my wife in the very first days of the new "line" 
that there would be a split in the Communist Parties 
all over the world and there would be sabotage and 
attempts at revolution inside Russia. So you see I 
was not surprised by the birth of what is called 
"Trotskyism," and neither was I surprised by the 
trials and executions in Russia. 

You speak of the "obscene show trials." I have 
searched your letter for any hint of the possibility 
that some men may actually have been guilty of 
waging war against the present Stalin regime inside 
Russia. I searched also in vain for any hint as to 
what Hitler and Araki, to say nothing of the militar- 
ists of Britain, Poland, Rumania, etc., may have been 
doing, or trying to do, inside the Soviet Union. To 

12 



me it seems the most elementary of political and 
military inevitabilities that secret war should be going 
on against the Soviet Union, and that reactionary 
intriguers provided with unlimited funds should be 
making whatever use they can of revolutionary ex- 
tremism inside that country. 

Arguments have a way of centering about personali- 
ties, and the question has become whether Trotsky 
accepted help from Hitler. I do not know anything 
about that, and I am not especially interested in it, 
because Trotsky does not loom that much in my 
mind. But I know that when unlimited funds are 
available, and when subtle and highly trained agents 
are working inside a political movement to use it, 
they can find plenty of ways of passing out money 
while keeping secret the sources from which the 
money has come. I know just as' well that there are 
German and Japanese agents in Russia today posing 
as being ultra-left-wingers, as I know that there are 
spies of Ford and Weir and Girdler in the American 
labor movement, posing as being Communists and 
doing everything they can to lead the movement into 
violence and disorder so that it may be discredited. 

I know this must be so; and then one day in the 
Saturday Evening Post I came upon the articles of 
Mr. Littlepage, an American engineer, who is with- 
out any trace of radicalism, or even of understanding 
radicalism, and he tells how during his ten years of 
service in the mining industry of the Soviet Union he 
witnessed the wholesale sabotage and speculated as 

*3 



to its causes. He tells about one of the high-up offi- 
cials whose acts of sabotage in the purchase of ma- 
chinery he witnessed in Berlin; and it so happens that 
this individual was one of the men who confessed to 
those very same acts in the public proceedings which 
you describe as "obscene show trials." 

I have been very curious to know what would be 
the effect of the Littlepage revelations upon my 
American Socialist friends who have made up their 
minds that the Russian trials were all frameups. ] 
shall be interested in your comments upon them. 

I have written you a long letter— longer than your 
letter to me. The subject is the most important one 
of our time. It is true, as you say, that my heart is 
"in the right place." I want to know the truth and 
to tell it as well as I can. It is also true that I have 
been studying the problem of Russia as earnestly as 
I know how for twenty years. There have been few 
days during that period that I have not sought some 
new facts and pondered them. I have had many a 
heartache over the things which have happened in 
Russia— so different from what I hoped for. I watched 
Gorky all through this period, and I know how he 
suffered and how more than once he wavered. But 
in the end he made up his mind that the Soviet 
regime was the best hope for the workers of Russia, 
and that is my conclusion today. I do not think it 
is going to change so long as Mussolini, Hitler, Franco 
and Araki continue to menace the world with a return 
to the middle ages, and so long as the Soviet Union 



continues to hold out to America, Britain, and France 
the invitation to join her in standing against this 
menace. 

Sincerely, 

Upton Sinclair. 



THE FLIVVER KING 

BY UPTON SINCLAIR 

The American people believe Henry Ford a great idealist. 
Once he was that; now he is the owner of a billion dollars. 
What that money has done to him is a fascinating story. 
I have written it in time for the big fight between Ford 
and the union. 

THE FLIVVER KING: A Story of Ford- America, is a 
novel of three generations of a family of Ford workers, 
from 1892 to the present. Henry himself is one of the 
characters. 

I have put this into the form of a pocket-size magazine, 
128 pages, price 25 cents postpaid; 10 copies, fi.75; 
100 copies, $15. 



NO PASARAN: 

A STORY OF THE BATTLE OF MADRID, has been 
published serially in a score of different countries, and in 
book form in as many languages. I printed 50,000; still 
have 7,000 left. Prices same as The Flivver King; the two 
books for 35 cents. With every five copies of The Flivver 
King, a free copy of No Pasaran if requested. 



Station A 



UPTON SINCLAIR 

Pasadena California 



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